Just as some customers drive a considerable distance to have me work on their bikes, I drive a considerable distance to have a particular mechanic work on my car. He's been worth the trip since 1988.
The route to his shop is a long and challenging bike ride. Any route from my place in Effingham to his shop in Gilford has to get past a mountain range and a big lake. Winnipesaukee is actually known as "The Big Lake" in New Hampshire, because it is the state's largest. The mountain range, the Ossipees, is roadless. It's an ancient volcanic ring dike, nearly circular.
When I have to deliver and pick up by myself, I ride a bike rather than bother anyone to drive more than 80 miles to indulge my customer loyalty. Every route has some terrifying nasty sections. The one with the fewest of them runs along the south shore of the big lake, down around the pointy end of Alton Bay. Going up the other side, a rider can use back roads to reduce the time spent on Route 28. The shortest version is 42 miles.
Because I now know someone who works near the mechanic's place in Gilford, I can sometimes hitch a lift to pick up the car. If that doesn't work out, I'm back to my own resources.
When I was young and immune to fatigue, I would hit the road at 5 a.m. and ride all the way to Gilford to get the car before work. When daylight gets a little shorter, an early start means riding in the dark. It works out better to ride to work, work the day, and crank out the last 27 miles after quitting time. Since my mechanic is self-employed and basically nocturnal, he'll still be there at 7 p.m. or later. Don't look for him early in the morning, however.
A Gilford run by bike is an expedition. I only plan on a couple a year for specific things in spring and summer. The distance isn't so bad, but the narrow parts are very stressful and there are a couple of nasty climbs.
This spring, after getting almost no exercise all winter, I had to pull off a Gilford run with less than 200 miles on me. The muffler fell off the car. The stub of the exhaust was up under the car, gassing me at every stop. So off I went, at a steady plod.
Two weeks later, I rode it again, when the rear brakes jammed up. The car is 14 years old and has spent the last 8 or 9 years dealing with New Hampshire road salt.
Okay, we're good to go now, right?
Last Thursday, the front brakes got jealous and seized up hard. On Friday I limped the car to Wolfe City because the weather was nasty and I hoped to avoid riding. By the time I got there I knew I wasn't going to take the vehicle home. As luck would have it, the boss had his truck in Laconia, next town over from Gilford, and agreed to take his loaner back over during the afternoon, so I could drop my smoking hulk and hitch back to Wolfeboro with him.
Halfway to Gilford, my car blew a radiator hose, so I left it for AAA to drag the rest of the way. So now I have to retrieve it. Meanwhile, I went into Memorial Day weekend without a motor vehicle. Sweet!
I love getting in and out of Wolfeboro without a car, especially in summer. Motor vehicle traffic typically backs up for a couple of miles on any road through town. Then you have to find a place to park. As the middle class dwindles and no one has as much disposable income as they used to, the traffic and parking jams don't last all day, every day, from May to September the way they used to, but the busy parts are as busy as ever. And I've always gotten a strange good feeling from getting around without a car. So when circumstances "force" me to rely on pedal power, it's more like extra permission than an extra burden.
It's easy to stay home when I am home. Evening will come and I will realize that I have not gone outside for more than a few minutes, and I might not have spoken to another human being. While I don't prefer it that way, I've ended up that way. The cats are happy to have me around. I get to observe the life of the woods.
Today I wanted to get some produce I had not found in Wolfe City, so I took the fixed gear out to the grocery store nearest to my house, about 3.5 miles away.
Exercise is not only an effective antidepressant, it may be the only truly effective antidepressant. Despite two gray days and a moroseness that has only increased since the turn of the century, a stupid little errand by bike felt really good. I have a huge amount of difficulty getting myself to exercise as a separate activity, so whenever I can work it into the practical needs of life it is all the more gratifying.
I need the car, as any rural resident does. But being without it can be a real gift.